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Archive for May, 2010

Boat Blog: Quiet day at Crick

Posted by indigodream on 31 May, 2010

Saturday 29th May

Here I am back on the blog again – I facetiously called Denise’s bog the pirate blog but they’re the most considerate pirates in history. One of the reasons that Denise and family are part of the very small and select group that we allow on board unsupervised is that they always leave the boat in a better state that they found her! They’re perfect boat-sitters 🙂

With rain forecast we decided to visit Crick today and cruise in the hopefully better weather tomorrow. We had an unusually early start from home and had an exceptionally quick drive – none of the bank holiday road chaos that we’d feared (though the M1 had its endemic slow roadworks). As we drove we reminisced about this time last year when we were whizzing around on the BCN marathon challenge in the brilliant sunshine. I do hope that they’ll be able to run that event again in future years…..

The last time we came to Crick (some years ago) it was an unmitigated disaster – a big fire had closed the approach road, the queues to get into the car park were of almost biblical proportions, it was raining horribly, the site was ankle deep in mud, the stalls were huddling miserably in the downpours and my day finished with a nasty fall over an unmarked step, a broken shoulder and two costly operations to insert and remove large screws into the joint (which Richard would have happily sorted with his Bosch super drill!). We haven’t been back since so I approached this year’s show with a certain amount of trepidation….. (and Richard helpfully had his drill in the boot).

This time there were no queues to get in – either to the car park or to the show; it was very well organised with plenty of personnel on duty to guide cars to the appropriate parking. It was raining and I was a bit surprised that the grass in the car park fields was so long – take waterproof shoes for the trip from the car to the show. Nonetheless the main pathways had proper tracks laid down.

We bobbled around for a bit, just getting a feel for the show. It started raining in earnest as we reached the showground and we (along with everyone else) scooted into the main ‘pavilion’ – luckily it’s dog friendly. We were getting ready for a gratuitous mooch around out of the rain when we spotted another greyhound – it was Duke along with owners Peter and Sue who’d joined us for a charity cruise last year. We chatted greys and boating for ages – we’re hoping to do another charity cruise with them later in the year. It would be fab to have Duke on board again – he is such a sweetie. A moment later we bumped into the lady who runs the Thames and Kennet Marina in Reading – one of our all time favourite mooring places. “Ah you recognised the dogs” said Richard, “oh no, I recognised you” she diplomatically lied…..

We had a browse along the stalls – there’s a good variety. We were after pencil fenders, Odorloss Green for the loo and some silly patchwork trousers and fleeces for me – got to keep up the style after Paris 🙂 While we were there we said ‘hi’ to Paul from Waterway Routes – we’ve waved to them often while passing on the BCN but we’ve never had the chance to say hello in person. Nearby we spotted the cheapest rubber side fenders in the show – 6 for £25 – bargain.

After a circuit of the pavilion we braved the rain and wandered around the rest of the show. I immediately bought a brolly and we lurked in a stall selling rope (we’d need some for our new fenders). Suddenly a couple came up for a chat – ‘we met you at Ringstead’ she said ‘that’s Blue isn’t it’ – see, the dogs are so famous. We chatted greys for a while longer – they have a lovely lurcher that we met on the Nene but who was too nervous for them to bring to the show.

Billing Marina (where we’re currently moored) had a stand at the show and the gents there hailed us as went past – what good memories they have! We chatted for a while and extolled the virtues of their visitor moorings. It’s been very pleasant to moor here and I’ll be a little sad to leave.

Midland Chandlers had a useful stall and we had a bit of a spree there later on – odorloss green for the loo, a new wooden bit for our tiller (it probably has a proper name) and a fine new boathook. Then we went to the waterside stalls, bought some very colourful trousers for me (though not as bright as the ones I bought later) and another thick fleece which I put on immediately! We had a quick look at Sanity Again and asked the boat’s ‘bouncer’ (actually a very nice lady, presumably from Braidbar!) to pass on our regards to Bruce and Sheila who looked to be busy with visitors inside. Sanity Again looked mighty fine, though I was pleased to see a few scratches in the blacking at the bow to prove that she’s a proper boat……… 🙂

By now the dogs were wet and bedraggled (but perfectly fine). They were going for the sympathy vote and they got in buckets from passers-by. One man did told me off for keeping Lou out without a coat and in such miserable conditions (Richard and Blue were way ahead of us). She turned her soulful eyes on him and said “I’m yours for a bacon sandwich”….

The next greyhound indignity was being dragged onto a mini lure-racing course by Richard (I refused to have anything to do with this venture!). Predictably with all the activity going on around them they weren’t the least bit interested in the lure, let alone running after it!

Before we got accused of dog-abuse we hastened to find some food stalls and we all had a superior sausage in a very inferior bun – it all went down the same way with Blue and Lou; we also had some very good curly fries – so they should have been – they cost £4!

By the time we’d eaten we decided we’d had enough and went forth to complete our shopping – all the heavy stuff plus a long raincoat for Richard. We were all set to go back to the car when I spotted the silly trouser stand I’d been looking for, with a multitude of weird and wonderful clothes and other objects from Indonesia. Richard left me there and took the dogs back for a rest in the car – they were knackered – they’d been walking for over an hour, had to lie on some grass WITHOUT  THEIR SHEEPSKINS, put up with fuss from random passersby (some of whom actually photographed Lou looking utterly soppy while having her ears rubbed) and been rained on (though they weren’t cold and suffering, despite appearances to the contrary). Richard settled them happily into their beds (the boat beds were in the car, freshly laundered) and I settled down to some serious shopping. As well as clothes, I got a load of indonesian musical instruments – mainly percussion – for my choir to play with. I can’t wait to use them – they’re wonderful and so cheap. I bought a hand drum, cymbals and four other hand-held instruments for less than the cost of one drum in a music stall in Camden Market.

With the dogs sorted and a break in the rain, we had a final, more relaxed, look around the stalls – we finished the day with a selection of fudge – flavours you wouldn’t think of – Bailey’s for example – yum yum!

We left at around 3.30pm – the show had been very quiet and half the cars had already left the car park. There’s certainly plenty to see here but it’s undoubtedly more pleasant when it’s not raining. We’d enjoyed our trip, though maybe next time we’ll cruise in the rain and visit Crick in the sunshine – after all, nothing much can dent our pleasure of cruising!

We had a short trip back from Crick to Billing Aquadrome via Morrison’s in Northampton.There are a few more narrowboats on the visitor moorings. From the pontoon it looks as if we’ll never get past them, but from the shore it looks as if there’s plenty of room – we’ll see how it goes tomorrow!

We were all so sleepy when we got back to the boat – we struggled on with unloading the car, paid for our extra night’s mooring, put the nicely laundered dog beds back in place, fed the dogs, blogged about the dogs and filled with water!

All that activity woke us up enough to get across to the same chinese that we visited two weeks ago. Here’s a top tip for you – if the chinese is only half-full then do go in – the food is luscious and plentiful; if it’s more than half-full then go elsewhere because chances are that they can’t cope. The food was still very good this evening but the service was woeful – the restaurant was full and they simply weren’t managing though I’ve heard that it’s very healthy to prolong your dinner over 2 hours……

It’s so different here tonight – there are at least ten times more people around and the funfair was still open and busy at 10pm. I’ve enjoyed mooring here – you couldn’t hope for a friendlier place. There’s every amenity that a family could need as well as full teams of maintenance and security guards working round the clock. It’s very reassuring, as is the big security gate which separates the moorings from the shore (though we haven’t felt the least bit unsafe here). I find myself rather snobbishly thinking that Billing Aquadrome is fine but ‘not our sort of place’. Yet, we’ve had a really good time here. So, my overall verdict: if you’re idea of a mooring is the dark perfection of a starlit sky and the soft noises of hunter and hunted then don’t come here; if you want good amenities, a friendly welcome and a bit of entertainment and fun then this definitely the place to be…..

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Boat Blog: The pirate blog…..

Posted by indigodream on 29 May, 2010

Friday 21st May

Wyn, Denise (that’s me!) and Rhodri arrived at Billing Aquadrome at 8pm following a sat nav maiden voyage. It was not successful! It took us 12 miles away from our destination, but hey-ho, we saw some very pretty villages along the way. Unloaded car and went our merry way searching for food and alcohol! Had a lovely meal at the pub (note from Sue: Suspect it’s the Billing Mill pub with the working water wheel!) and all of us collapsed into bed in a heap!

Note: We have not mentioned that Sue and Richard had (accidentally) left the heating on timer, in case we forget to turn it off too 🙂

Saturday 22nd May

Woke up to a beautifully warm and extremely sunny day. Decided to try the breakfast at the complex on Richard’s advice – very nice too. Wyn and Rhodri went for a walk whilst I stayed on board with the engine running. We went swimming – excellent pool! We went for a walk around the site and had a game of crazy golf (Denise 32 shots, Wyn 33, Rhodri 31!). We were going to go on the pedaloes but everyone was wet coming off them so that put us off….

Walked to the garage to get supplies for lunch and had ham ‘n cheese baguettes on the back deck washed down with cloudy lemonade and followed by an apricot danish and a lovely cup of tea.

Went to Olney for a spin – lovely quaint little town that does a wicked coconut ice cream! Lovely old shops – like Llandeilo only flat 🙂

Came back in the evening and looked in the garden centre – Wyn bought some seed potatoes (Nadine). Called back at the pub for food – again very nice. Called over at the complex for a drink and went to the fairground for a walk. Then we retired to Indigo Dream to sit on deck in the cool evening.

Sunday 23rd May

Once again awoken by the sunshine streaming in through the windows and the temperature showing 24 degrees C. I don’t think we could have come away for a nicer weekend. Luckily there was a car boot sale here so that has satisfied Wyn’s fix for a while – even though he’s disappointed not to have bought anything (it was full of towny S£$% according to him i.e. no rotovators, lawnmowers or tractor bits for sale!). Made a picnic for our lunch to eat at Stoke Bruerne.

Goodbye Indigo Dream – see you again very soon!

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Odds Blog: Paris – the highlights….

Posted by indigodream on 24 May, 2010

Friday 21st to Sunday 23rd May

Toulouse fans waving their flags and a stricken Biarritz fan on the big screen.....

We abandoned Indigo Dream this weekend in favour of Richard’s idea of a romantic weekend, well our annual pilgrimage to the Heineken Cup Final (Rugby Union). Having been around the UK for the last several years, this year it was in Paris – oh yes, Paris in the springtime – how lovely!

Not that Indigo Dream was out of our thoughts – I persuaded my cousin Denise and family to stay on the boat to explore the delights of Billing Aquadrome for the weekend. They had a great time and I’ll post Denise’s blog when we get back to the boat next weekend. They were often in my thoughts – I love Paris but I also wanted to be on the boat taking them out onto the river!

Blue and Lou had a little holiday with Richard’s mum – she has the best garden for dogs and they had a very active time. I’m writing this on Monday – they’re so tired they haven’t moved off their duvets all day!

I won’t do a travelogue for Paris – I was thinking that you’d need a year to explore its many delights and then another year to capture it in words! Instead I’ll just describe a few highlights and lowlights…..

The highlights….

Seamus is such a poser....

1. Eurostar: It’s fantastic! There’s a lot of walking to be done round St Pancras but the new station is clean and has good facilities;  check-in via our printed tickets was very efficient. There are several classes of ticket – we had ‘Leisure Select’ tickets – a step up from standard and a step down from first class – very nice it was too! The seats are very wide with generous legroom and the solicitous stewards delivered food and drink to our seats throughout the journey. It certainly beats flying! Gare du Nord in Paris is a bit crummy, but it also has good facilities and the loos, at 70 cents a time were suitably spotless! Our claim to fame on the way back was that we were in the same carriage as Deborah Meaden of ‘Dragon’s Den’ fame (her favourite sport is rugby union). We maintained our dignity and didn’t stare, ask for her autograph, photograph or a spare £500,000 🙂

2. The Paris Metro: It’s so comprehensive, if a little incomprehensible at first. There are numerous lines and even more numerous stops – this means that you can get just about anywhere in the city via metro and you’re never far from a station. There are several types of ticket, including the equivalent of london travel cards – we bought a 3-day ticket which was only 20 euro. I’m not sure whether we got the best from it – a single just about anywhere was only 1.6 euro. Top Tip: To get to Stade de France DO NOT take the obvious route to St Denis via the metro – use the overground railway line B1 – it’s a lot less crowded.

That's our hotel on the corner (with the smoked glass and the art deco detail)

3. The hotel – Plaza Tour Eiffel: A small modern hotel conveniently placed for exploring the Trocadero and Eiffel Tower etc. Yet it is in a quiet residential street. The rooms were pleasant though ours was a bit small BUT it had a great view including the top of the Eiffel Tower which is truly spectacular when the lit up after dark. The best bit was the service – the staff couldn’t have been more courteous and helpful.

4. The shopping: Richard had unwisely agreed to my suggestion that his birthday present to me should be a shopping trip in Paris – I can feel the men wincing as they read! The thing is, I don’t like shopping and tend to get a whole year’s clothes in one go if I can. I particularly like small french clothes shops, most of which seem to provide very stylish clothes for short round women like myself. They’re not ‘outsize’ stores – they just seem to realise that women of all sizes have bumpy bits! My favourites are the reasonably priced Jaqueline Riu and my new favourite, Catherine Gerard (35 Rue Chaussée d’antin, 75009 Paris, France 01 48 74 75 34‎) which is pricey but fantastic quality and so chic. I bought lots of nice things and only the fact that we needed to get to the rugby put a stop to my little spree……. (and the men to recover from all the “coffee” they drank in various cafes next to clothes shops).

Classic view....

5. Heineken Cup Rugby: I wouldn’t call it a classic final but it was closely fought with a bit of a thriller try from Biarritz in the last 15 minutes which meant a cliffhanger finish. The French were very strong in the 6-nations so it’s hardly surprising that the two club teams in the final had a high proportion of international french players. Both sides had awesome defences but I think Biarritz were missing those man mountain props they used to have. Rugby is always good natured despite the simply unfeasible amounts of alcohol consumed by all. Coming out of the Metro we were entertained by the chants and the dance which the Toulouse fans have to go with their chant! Next year’s final is in Cardiff (again!) – we’ve already bought our tickets!

6. The Eiffel Tower: Tourist trap – of course; engineering marvel – oh yes! You just have to see it, well, you can’t help but see it. The Paris planners have protected the vista with low planting and building. There’s a great view from the ‘steps’ of the Trocadero (makes sense when you get there) but it’s good just to stand under the tower and looking up – it’s awesome! It’s well worth going to the top – there’s nothing like the view from there, but do pre-book to avoid at least some of the queues. We’ve been up on a previous visit so we didn’t need to brave the queues this time and sat instead under the fragrant trees in the park below the Trocadero – bonne!

I'll have the most expensive one.....

7. The Food: Oh my goodness, the food! Even the meanest street caf’ has the best quality fresh food; there were luscious little food shops within sight of our hotel – the smell of fresh strawberries from the fruit shop was intoxicating. We have had the most wonderful food – now I know why the clothes shops need to cater for more ‘shapely’ women!

8. The Apartments: Our hotel is in an area of magnificent residential buildings – tall and graceful with ornate balustrades and charming roof gardens. Apparently foreign dignitaries and superstars live here in their luxury apartments – they look tremendous from the outside. I don’t fancy an apartment – I’d struggle without my own garden space. The only garden apartment (tiny garden) being advertised for sale was just under 5 million euros – the pound will never be strong enough for us to afford that!

9. The Seine by the Eiffel Tower: This is such a graceful river – the view from the bridge which crosses near the Eiffel Tower is priceless. We spent ages just watching the water and enjoying the river breeze which was refreshingly welcome in the dry continental heat. The river’s very busy with trip boats but they created very little wash and didn’t seem to bother the tiny hire boat (basically a wooden ‘rowing boat’ with a little engine) that was cruising along aimlessly like some speck of flotsam.There’s the most desirable residential mooring in the world just below the bridge – there’s an attractive dutch barge moored there with a little smart car parked on the generous ‘towpath’. What a magical place to live.

The locks by Stade de France....

10. The locks by Stade de France: we weren’t sure whether they were river or canal locks – whatever! They were enormous and we just enjoyed looking at them. We have an ambition to cruise the european waterways one day – it’s our BIG project for the far future as I think that Indigo Dream is just too small for the job – I think we need a dutch barge! This discussion is the subject of much gentle wrangling! So, we may need to find money for and buy a new boat, learn French (fortunately Richard has competent german), sort out dog passports or the equivalent (probably for the next generation of dogs given the timescale), and be able to take at least 6 months off work without causing us or our clients too much pain.

The Lowlights:

Our almost non-existent french language skills; the fact that Welsh rugby teams never get into the Heineken Cup final [1]; the fact that even the Irish didn’t make it to the final this year; Stade de France’s insistence that Seamus (aged 2) needed his own ticket despite the fact that you can only buy children’s tickets from age 7 upwards; the blinding, roasting sun on the east side of Stade de France – buy tickets on the West Stand next time; the cost – it’s not a cheap city to visit especially with the current state of the pound.

[1]  They got closer this year. In all fairness, the Cardiff Blues did winning the lesser Amlin Cup on Sunday (despite Jonny Wilkinson playing for Toulon) but sadly we could not shuffle our arrangements to make it to Marseille on Sunday.

We haven’t been to Paris for many years – why? I’d forgotten how lovely it is – we mustn’t leave it so long before our next visit……

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Boat Blog: Happy Launch Day Indigo Dream

Posted by indigodream on 21 May, 2010

Sunday 16th May

Indigo Dream on her fourth birthday - she's not looking too bad is she? 🙂

It is a good day – Indigo Dream was launched on 16th May 2006 in Trowbridge on the Kennet and Avon an unbelievable four years ago.

Our biggest worry when we got her into the water was that we wouldn’t use her enough and she’d just be another pristine but cobwebbed boat sitting in a marina for most of the year.

Well, I can safely say that hasn’t been the case! Our rough calculation is that we’ve cruised almost every english waterway southwest of an imaginary line from Liverpool to London – the troubled Basingstoke being the big exception. That’s around 2500 miles and 1900 locks. We’ve had a great time and Indigo Dream has done exactly what we needed her to – although there are always little tweaks to be done, she has been just perfect for our way of cruising.

So join us, if you will, in a toast to Indigo Dream and many more years of happy cruising…..

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The Odyssey 2010: Day 17

Posted by indigodream on 21 May, 2010

Saturday 15th May

Irthlingborough to Billing Aquadrome

A little rummage along the Irthlingborough moorings...

We had a wonderfully quiet night on the Irthlingborough moorings – we slept so well that we didn’t notice the departure of the other boats moored behind us!

It was the most wonderful morning – that icy wind had finally gone and we cruised in warm sunshine. I let Richard do most of the helming today while I just sat and soaked in the weather. He particularly enjoyed navigating the arch of the old bridge at Irthlingborough – well, he’s quite right, you do need a few revs to get the best control from the helm!

I’ve actually operated a few locks on this holiday! The first of the day was Higham, where I needed some extra equipment – a dustpan and broom to sweep the broken glass (probably a lager bottle) scattered around the lockside. Despite many metres of glass-free path, Blue had his usual magnetic attraction for trouble and walked straight into the glassed area. Luckily he didn’t cut himself – now that’s a first! The radial gate at Ditchford is fascinating – watching the mechanism swing ponderously into place is almost hypnotic, as is the deep thrumming as the escaping water sets off a deep vibration in the whole mechanism. Gosh, I did two locks in a row – I must go and have a lie down…..

There’s a big factory just upstream of Ditchford – it’s an unexpected variation from the watery landscape of old gravel pits. As always, we wondered what it was and did a little digging. I was surprised to find that it’s a ‘rendering’ plant which processes mainly poultry waste. It apparently produces something called ‘feather meal’ – I never imagined it but apparently fresh poultry feather can be processed to a relatively high protein cattle food. Apparently it’s not very palatable – no s£$%!!!

Rendering plant....

The idea of it made me feel a bit queasy, but that’s just stupidly sentimental reaction – we’re not vegetarians and our dogs surely eat a ton of dog food – we know that meat comes from animals. I think it’s a good thing that all parts of the animal are used – it would be a notorious waste of life otherwise. Anyway, the factory belongs to a company called PDM which specialises in ‘by-products’ and has quite an interesting profile. I get the impression that while other companies do the tasty stuff, PDM quietly takes care of the rest. It seems that nothing is wasted – what can’t be processed is used as a renewable energy source.

They must run a very clean operation, there’s been no hint of a smell either time that we’ve passed by – I might have expected one. On the other hand, the plant is just upstream of a large sewage works which had a distinctive and overwhelming aroma in the warm sunshine…..

We’ve seen more ponies/horses along the Nene than in any other part of the country. I say ponies/horses because I’m not sure where the dividing line is. The creatures around here are relatively small, shaggy with veiled manes and tails that brush the ground; they have large fringed hooves that look as if they’ve been borrowed from their Shire cousins. I wondered what they’re used for – they look too stocky for riding but too small for ‘freight’. It would be nice to think that they’re just kept for grazing but I don’t suppose that’s an economic option. When I found out about the rendering plant I had a horrible apprehension about their fate but it is a poultry plant…..

Local ponies - the waterside grass is far too sweet to abandon just because there's a narrowboat going past!

It’s been nice to have a second look at the landscape – the substantial pile that we noticed on the way down is definitely Chester House. We thought it was being restored; but it looks as if it has been restored but the work was destroyed by a fire. It’s publically owned and it sounds as if the council need to make a difficult decision on how to use the hard-hit taxpayers money – to restore or not to restore – that is the question!

Our destination for the day, and for the week, was Billing Aquadrome. We rang to book a visitor mooring and, once you get past the infernal automated answering service, the real people are exceptionally pleasant and helpful.

Note: Billing Aquadrome’s infernal automated answering service does not have a separate option for the marina – choose option 6

With our mooring sorted, we stopped for lunch at Wellingborough Embankment. We took advantage of the nearby Tesco store – hot chicken all round – yum!

Sand extraction....

We’ve seen a little more traffic on the water today – nb Sextant going downstream at Wellingborough and, below Earls Barton Lock, a bright red narrowboat with a crew wearing matching bright red hats. Mind you, on Sunday I was wearing a royal blue ensemble which harmonised perfectly with Indigo Dream – we narrowboaters are such a stylish lot 🙂

Ooh, we passed by the sand plant again. On the way down we’d noted that it seemed like very fine sand – it is! They mine silica sand round here. Looking at the plant, we wondered whether the sand was extracted as a wet slurry. I never did find the answer to that but I did find that Linatex, which has a sign on the sand plant, specialises in making rubberised hoses for mining (among many other things). The mine itself has apparently recently received permission to expand – the scheme was largely unopposed – interesting! While I was digging I also found the Earls Barton village website – enjoy!

We weren’t in any rush to get to Billing Aqaudrome – Val, one of their ultra-helpful ladies had everything organised so that we could pick up the relevant key cards from the park’s security gate, which is manned 24-hours. The marina manager had given us directions to the pontoon so we were sorted.

This is the road bridge (below Billing Lock) the turn is immediately after the bridge - between the bridge and that green bank you can see through the navigable arch...

We bobbled up the river, taking photographs of the prison and other features that we’d missed on the way down.

We kept Blue and Lou on board at Doddington Lock – the downstream lock landing has unfenced access to the road and lock cottages, though there’s a well-fenced field on the other side where they could have a rummage. This is where Blue did his escape artist act under the fence on the way down. The dogs weren’t bothered at being confined – Lou has turned down a rummage at every lock – when we forced her off she just lay straight down on the grass; Blue has been game for a little rummage but has been very anxious about flies so he hasn’t stayed out for long either. We did miss an opportunity for a greyhound gathering at Doddington – there was a delightful black greyhound being walked over the bridge. Richard had a brief chat with the owner  – the grey’s racing name was apparently “have a little hope”, though I haven’t been able to find it on greyhound-data – shame – we’re always on the hunt for Blue and Lou’s ‘family’. Lou raced in Mildenhall, which isn’t a million miles from here – wouldn’t it be nice to bump into some of her half-siblings….

That's the entrance to the aquadrome on the right...

Sue’s guide (nb No Problem) warns that Billing Aquadrome is ‘difficult to get in to’. The marina manager had told us to turn right into the entrance immediately after the road bridge. I think the most difficult part was actually accepting that it is the very sharp right turn immediately after the bridge, yes, that turn, between the pub and the bridge, there’s isn’t a turn after the pub, are you sure, uh, yes, probably……..

Despite the dialogue, we didn’t miss the turn and Richard did a good job on the helm. It is offputting though – you turn right into a narrow channel which opens out briefly into a small basin with a lively flow from the millstream on the left then there’s another narrow channel – we weren’t at all sure we were in the right place – there are no signs for Billing Aquadrome here. But then the channel suddenly opens out into a huge lake with the marina pontoons huddling at the far end. We headed for the visitor moorings on Pontoon B – the nearest to the far bank. When we got a little confused, the friendly local residents were quick with directions. It’s a tight fit – the pontoon ‘fingers’ are only 12 feet long and Indigo Dream, at 60ft, makes the whole visitor mooring look like a toytown model marina!

And there's Billing Aquadrome marina....

We moored up not far from the gate and went off to find our welcome pack. And it is very welcoming here – the staff are so helpful, the residents are pleasant and the welcome pack is full of useful information. This is a very unusual mooring though – it’s a bit like mooring at Butlins! There is a large visitor centre with a leisure pool complete with large flume, a funfair and the show tonight was a 70s night. There’s a minature railway round the site and several bars and restaurants. It’s a perfect family mooring – if you’ve got bored kids on board then moor up here for a few nights!

We ate at the on-site Chinese restaurant near the entrance and enjoyed a great all-you-can-eat menu for £12.90 – we did our best but even we were defeated after two round of starters and a round of main courses (you order up to five dishes at a time but you can order as many ’rounds’ as you’re capable of eating). Although the food was plentiful and delicious, there were very few diners there – the Chinese is relatively new and I hope that they’re able to survive as a business.

Lou on the way home - it's been a very busy week for the hounds 🙂

The 70s night was in full swing as we walked back to boat – being the old fogey that I am, I worried about the noise. It does travel across the water, but we were so tired that we didn’t notice it once we got on board and we had a fine night’s sleep in this most secure of moorings.

We’ll be leaving her here for the next fortnight – we’re off to Paris for the rugby next weekend (Heineken Cup Final) so we won’t back on the water until the Bank Holiday. I’m hoping to persuade cousin Denise to come up and stay on the boat next weekend while we’re away – her 13 year old son would love the aquadrome.

We’re planning a little visit to Crick – I’m wondering whether to wear an Indigo Dream T-shirt (or maybe just a discreet badge) so that readers we haven’t met yet can come up and say hello. Hmmm, maybe the fact that I’m walking around with Blue and Lou, undoubted stars of the blog, will be enough of a giveaway 🙂


View from the Irthlingborough moorings....

The other view from the Irthlingborough moorings...

The Irthlingborough bridges - tricky curve into the navigable arch but not a problem in this time of low flow - just remember your revs!

A woman's work is never done......

Wispy willow....

Escaped convict - that oilseed rape is taking over....

Isn't that beautiful....

Large sewage works below Ditchford lock - you really need a scratch 'n sniff screen to properly appreciate it!

Lou looking cute at Ditchford Lock (1)....

Lou looking cute at Ditchford (2)

Lou thinking about moving from Ditchford lock - surely not!

Blue inspecting the works at Ditchford...

Mummy's boy - greyhounds do like to come in for a lean now and then...

There fine viaducts were built at the same time - one for freight and the other for passenger trains

Definitely Chester House - I wonder what's happening to it now....

Modern prison just outside Wellingborough - still looks grim to me though...

Looking back at the lovely mill buildings at Doddington Lock

We like these safety signs at the locks - shows that someone's taking care. The grid references are particularly useful - especially if you needed the emergency services...

Perfect colour co-ordination!

The moorings above Earls Barton Lock - highly recommended by Sue of nb No Problem and Leslie from Caxton (and all the dogs!)

Part of the panorama at Earls Barton Lock....

Now did I take this at Earls Barton Lock or White Mills Lock - pretty view anyway...


This merry boat had at least 12 young people on board (but sadly no-one in charge!). We wondered how they'd all fit inside to sleep but then we realised that by the time they'd been swept off the roof by low bridges it wouldn't be an issue 😀

Shimmering afternoon...

Are these dead tree stumps of just irregular posts that have been 'planted'?

The guillotine are such monumental structures yet they fade into the landscape within minutes of cruising away from them.....

Moorings above Cogenhoe Lock...

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Dog Blog: The six-dog bundle

Posted by indigodream on 20 May, 2010

Friday 14th May

We took over a hundred photos of the canine crews of Indigo Dream, Matilda Rose and Caxton – they had a very good time – if you’re a dog person you’ll enjoy the sight of them romping around; if you’re not a dog person then look away now 🙂

ps. No bums were bitten during the making of this montage……..

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The Odyssey 2010: Day 16

Posted by indigodream on 19 May, 2010

Friday 14th May

Wadenhoe to Irthlingborough

The King's Head, Wadenhoe....

We had another relaxed start this morning after a very quiet night on the moorings. We emerged at the same time as the crew of nb Pendlewych and ended up chatting to them for ages. We ladies talked about the dogs and the men talked about boaty things, particularly interesting as the Crew of Pendlewych have been boating for a very long time, seem to have been just about everywhere in a variety of boats including a wooden boat. At one time the tape measure came out as they compared…………. headroom of course. Nb Pendlewych is relatively low but they regularly have to take their chimney down under the bridges and out on the Fens, on the small drain where they moor, they have to take off their tiller pin before they can pass under some of the bridges! Pendlewych is 72″ to the top of her tiller pin; Indigo Dream is 72″ to the top of the horn (the highest fixed object on our roof).

We walked as far as the church with the crew of Pendlewych – we waved goodbye to them there – they were off on a walk to Islip – they’re hardy folk! We explored Wadenhoe Church – I’d say it’s a must-visit place along the river. The church was open but deserted, yet there was a real sense of welcome – there was a water bowl for the dogs in the entrance porch (inside the first heavy door) and there were bottles of water and squash for human visitors inside the church itself. Take some loose change – there are very informative leaflets for the grand sum of £1 each. The church is not ornate but it is ancient – some of the windows date back to 1280. It’s the opposite of a tardis – much smaller inside than the bulk of the outside would suggest – just how thick are those old stone walls? The graveyard is fascinating as many of the worn gravestones date back to the 1600’s. How different the inscriptions to those in the adjacent modern churchyard – there’s none of this ‘in loving memory…’ just ‘Here lyeth the dead corps of….’. There is also a macabre stone with three carved skulls. I wondered whether these might have been plague deaths but the dates of adjacent stones suggest that they’re too late to have been the first black death (in the 1300s) and too early to be the great ‘London’ plague of 1665.

The millenium sundial at Wadenhoe and the outstanding view beyond....

What I liked about the church leaflet was the rector’s summary that the church is a living entity and still serves the community today. The bells are apparently the most melodious peal in the district. I know it’s 10 years now, but there’s a fine sundial commissioned by the congregation as a millenium project – wouldn’t it be nice to think it would be standing here for the next millenium celebration 🙂

The church is fascinating, but even if you weren’t in the least bit interested in history it’s worth walking up here just for the panoramic view over the Nene Valley and back towards Wadenhoe village nestled in the hills. The dogs had another good rummage and we set off from the moorings in good spirits.

As we approached Titchmarsh Lock we passed  two men coming downstream in a Canadian canoe – it took Richard down memory lane to our own adventures down the Dordogne River in a canoe. As he remarked to the canoeists “we’re champions at capsizing them”. Uh, steady on Richard, we’re good at capsizing canoes when we’re paddling them, not when we’re passing them in Indigo Dream…..

Note: dog rummaging is lead-only at Titchmarsh Lock

We went on through Islip Lock. The mechanism jammed a little when I was emptying the lock – letting the gate down a little then up again seemed to work. It’s always awkward with electronic gates as it’s hard to tell whether it’s a mechanical or electrical problem. I did notice that many of the tracking wheels on the guillotine gates fail to turn and end up slipping, sometimes catching, making the movement rather jerky.

Hide at Titchmarsh Nature Reserve...

We’d been in touch with Caxton to see how far downstream they’d come and whether we could contrive a meeting. They were on the move, with plans to stop at Islip for the weekend. So it was only a matter of time before we bumped into each other.

Richard steered Indigo Dream safely through the bridge at Islip and noted in passing that nb Beez Neez was on the moorings – we’d last seen them at Wellingborough Embankment.

"What's that coming over the hill is it a......." Matilda Rose!

In a perfect moment of serendipity, we opened the gate at Lower Ringstead Lock just in time to let Matilda Rose in next to us before we shuffled onto the mooring to let Caxton take our place. The river’s got so little traffic we took advantage and had a six person, six dog bundle – we have some great photos of the canine crews dashing about. It was so good to see them all and we were sad to wave goodbye. They did put things in perspective for us though – after a chat with the ever-sensible Leslie and Jill I lost the last of my whimsical sadness at leaving the Nene – after all, it’s not as if we’re never going to boat again – we’re going back for adventures on the Thames!

We cruised on, full of cheer after our meeting with Caxton and Matilda Rose. Our next lock was Upper Ringstead – it is so beautiful here – if there had been moorings I’d have just stopped here for the night. The views over the lake are outstanding. We passed by the new marina that Richard spotted on his bike the other day; then past the adventure playground which we now know is part of the Stanwick Lake ‘complex’. We’d passed the entrance when I picked Richard up from the Axe and Compass the other day but hadn’t realised what a big enterprise it was.

Waving goodbye to Caxton and Matilda Rose - the dog photos will be in a separate post......

Oh, the owl nesting boxes here are successful – I spotted a hunting barn owl flying over the water meadows, ghostly pale and unmistakeable…..

It’s worth remembering that the adventure playgound/activity centre also does kayaking. There was a group of around 30 kayaks spread across the river as we came round the bend. Luckily they were were well supervised by the adults present and quickly tucked themselves into the banks so we could cruise past, slowly…..

Note: at Denham Lock the security bolt that holds the guillotine wheel doesn’t work; at Upper Ringstead the bolt needs a tap with the end of a windlass to get it to pop into the wheel (all makes sense when you see it!).

We were at our last lock of the day when I had a surprise phonecall from Greygal – she’d just rung for a chat and to compare notes on how our respective greyhound packs were faring. It was so good to talk to her – it really put the lid on a very sociable day.

Moorings above Irthlingborough Lock...

We’d had a fine day’s cruise and decided to stop at the Irthlingborough moorings by the Rushden and Diamonds Football club. Sue from nb No Problem recommends them and her guide has been spot on! There were two other boats moored there so that’s always a good sign. There is good dog walking (and quite a few dog walkers) around here (back towards the lock). Richard cycled back to get the car and we took advantage of the transport to explore the village of Higham Ferrars. The dogs were happy to stay behind – they are so very tired after their week’s exertions.

Higham Ferrars is another interesting place – yet again the village has an ancient heart. But we were there to discover the food not the history! We counted four pubs serving food, a couple of chinese takeaways and a very nice looking indian restaurant. We liked the look of the Griffin Inn and ended up eating in their very posh a la carte restaurant. The restaurant has great decor and ambience, the staff are efficient BUT it is quite pricey. The food was fine, but I didn’t think it was perfect enough for the price……

We had a very quiet night on the moorings – Sue’s guide was right yet again!

Cycle Ride Photoblog, then the day’s photoblog:

From Irthlingborough the cycle route is through Stanwick Lakes - really fantastic cycle path

Past the adventure playground

I hope that the Sustrans logo means that the path between Irthlingborough and Islip will be extended

At times it feels like you are on a canal ...

Nearer Islip the path gets rougher but still really good

There's obviously a story here ..

Beyoond Islip I went on the Nene Way. Big Mistake! After the cowpat full rough field you have a dodgy path through a wood ..

Indigo Dream on the King's Head moorings...

Wadenhoe Church has many interesting carvings....

Blue and Lou enjoying the 'view'....

Looking over towards Wadenhoe...

Hmm, what's the time now?

The dogs enjoyed lying in the sweet long grass...

Gravestone with three carved skulls - probably from the 1600's if the dates on the surrounding tones are a guide. Shame there's no inscription...

swan on the wing....

Luckily the range doesn't cross the river!

Watch out for canoeists on the bend by the activity centre....

There may be quite a few canoes....

Freshwater Mussell Shells - a sign of otters?????

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The Odyssey 2010: Day 15

Posted by indigodream on 16 May, 2010

Thursday 13th May

Ashton to Wadenhoe

Lovely landscapes around here.....

Because of our decision to lay up for a day at Ashton, we weren’t under so much time pressure to start back upstream. It’s been very useful having the car for our sightseeing and this morning we had a little mooch around Peterborough. We’d been told that it is THE place for shopping locally and it certainly has more than its fair share of department stores and malls. We had a good look around but I wasn’t in the mood for spending, not least because my bank account’s looking a bit sick until I get paid for all my labours in Scotland! Richard obligingly got his credit card out, but I’m not a shopaholic and I have to be in the right frame of mind – I can hear ladies sighing from here to Timbuktu – what a missed opportunity 🙂

Nonetheless, it was good to have a look around and Richard got some new clothes, though sadly not the new waterproof walking shoes he was looking for. We hope to take a look at some of the many shoe factory outlet stores around Northampton when we get back there.

We did have a look around Peterborough Cathedral – it’s quite awesome, as are all the remaining cathedrals of this era. I can’t think of any organisation that would get away with a building on this scale today, or with the longevity of the project – Peterborough took a mere 120 years to build! But I’m so glad that the medieval church ‘squandered’ their money on these ambitious building – there’d be nothing left for us to wonder at otherwise. I doubt whether structures like London’s Gherkin will still be standing in 800 years’ time……

I was particularly taken by the large mirror table that they’ve erected under one of the more elaborate ceilings in the cathedral – it’s meant to allow you to examine the detail of the ceiling without falling over backwards but I felt as if I was falling forward into infinity……

Peterborough Cathedral - awesome....

Oh, we were fascinated by the “Brewery Tap” – a pub and possibly working brewery we passed on the way out of the city. They’ve used the domed copper top of an old brewing vat as an awning over the door. Two thoughts occurred to me – how come all that copper hasn’t been stolen yet (it’s worth a fortune) and how come the copper hasn’t oxidised to green (I thought the oxidation happened very quickly in the open air)?.

We had a good morning’s exploration and got moving from the Ashton mooring at around 3pm. We were a little sad to leave but there are certain practicalities about a countryside mooring – the big one being lack of rubbish points and, in particular, dog poo bins. Now, it may be a distasteful subject, but Indigo Dream was starting to look like a Thames barge, laden down with rubbish bags on the front deck – definitely time to move!

We enjoyed the scenery on the way back – it is a lovely stretch of river. Today we spotted a large willow plantation – not the reedy withies that you’d use for baskets but the tall straight trunks you’d use for……cricket bats! If you’re interested there’s more information about planning issues around the plantation here; apparently they’ve been harvesting cricket bat willows here for many years – as many as 40 a year for the last 30 years. Growing cricket bat willows is quite a complicated business in order to get the quality of wood needed – the Royal Forestry Society has more information here.

In no time at all we were mooring up at the King’s Head in Wadenhoe, rejoining nb Pendlewych which we’d met at Ashton. It was too early to eat (the pub was shut!) so Richard cycled back for the car. He enjoyed the trip and the picturesque villages he passed along the way. He was particularly impressed with Oundle (again), Pilton and Stoke Doyle – there are a few snaps in the photoblog…..

Later on we went for a little bobble up towards the church – there’s very good dog walking here though the fields are sometimes used for livestock so just keep a vigilant eye. The field adjacent to the church was empty so the dogs had yet another good rummage.

We went up to the pub around 7pm and got settled into the dog-friendly bar. There had been an incursion of the Welsh here – only six people but at the volume of an invading army – we do like to talk! They were down for a grand-daughter’s wedding and we had a good old chinwag. Today’s greyhound story (there’s always one!) is that one of the men used to work at a dog track in Wales, many years ago. He vividly remembered (and gave me a paw by paw description) a dog race between ‘My laddie’ and ‘Ali’ – My Laddie won after some deft fixing on the betting. I can’t find either dog on the excellent Greyhound data website but then again there was (and maybe still is) a lot of unregistered dog racing in Wales. The man himself was not a dog person – Lou looked at him most endearingly and he just ignored her – his interest in greyhounds only went so far as they used to make him money!

The staff here are lovely and we had a great meal. Later on we met the owner (who also owns Wadenhoe House where the wedding was being held). We were able to give him lots of positive feedback about his pub and he, in turn, uttered the unwise phrase ‘moor here are long as you want’. Uhm, you don’t want to saying things like that to narrowboaters – we’ll stay for the whole year! This seems to be a good spot for exploring the local villages – either by foot, bike or car. The Nene Way runs nearby and offers miles of pathway of varying quality!

Here’s an overt plug for the King’s Head Beer Festival from the 4 – 6th June – wish we could be there – the cider they have on tap is very tasty – it would have been nice to sample the guest ciders (and ales of course)! Go there if you can…….

We were well content as we drifted back to the boat and had an exceptionally quiet night…..


Dizzying perspectives at Peterborough Cathedral....

This elaborately painted ceiling is apparently the original from the 12th century...

It's a dog's life in Peterborough......

Soilmec upstream of Ashton lock has at least three piling rigs in its back yard - an imposing site as you come down the river

"Summer is icumen in......." - there are little chickies everywhere - the parents weren't impressed by Indigo Dream....

These paddles are often hung from electric lines around here - we think they're to make the lines more visible to farm vehicles in the fields below. Any other guesses?

Low headroom at Upper Barnwell - if you zoom in and look closely you'll see the swallows' nests on the left hand side in the angle under the bridge

Lilford (or Lifford) Hall - what a fine pile that is.....

Below Lifford Lock....

Above Lifford Lock....

Under the spreading (horse)chestnut tree......

A view over Pilton....

The church in Stoke Doyle

Around Oundle (1)

Around Oundle (2)

Around Oundle (3)

Around Oundle (4) - some of the old gables lean backwards alarmingly.....

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The Odyssey 2010: Day 14

Posted by indigodream on 14 May, 2010

Wednesday 12th May

Stayed put in Ashton!

The view from our window at the Ashton moorings....

I’m a couple of days behind with the blog so this is actually being posted on our way back towards Northampton – we’ve had to turn back towards the Grand Union. There’s nothing wrong with the crew, the boat or the river – we’ve just run out of time. We’re ‘gutted’ (as the Welsh rugby players so eloquently say after yet another defeat), especially as the comments we’ve had about the lower reaches of the Nene are making us really sad that we can’t explore it further this year.

But the Nene is a fine wine and we’ve been glugging it as if it was cheap lager. It’s a waterway that deserves better and we simply don’t have the leisure to make the best of it at the moment. It seems mad now that we thought we’d get to Cambridge – mind you, we started out a day late and we’ve been stopping at 5pm whereas we’d normally cruise ’til 8pm at this time of year – it all adds up. I’ve also picked up a work contract with an end of May deadline which has put a crimp in our available cruising days – aaarrgh!

So, we knew we’d have to turn back on Thursday lunchtime at the latest – this would barely get us into Peterborough. Our plans for today were also complicated by the fact that when Richard cycled back to Islip for the car, his hastily repaired bike became poorly sick and needed some work at the nearest bike shop which was Bristows in Peterborough. Pubs were not open so he managed to get back to his car unassisted. It was gone 11am when he got back so we reverted to a plan B – keep the boat at the Ashton moorings but use the car to explore the surrounding areas.

The Nene looks very different in Wisbech; the buildings are 'the brink' mainly georgian; the scaffolding holds up the remains of a fine old building recently destroyed in an arson attack.....

We were spoilt for choice, really, but decided to try to follow the Nene out along its tideway and visit Wisbech, which was, at one time, an important sea port. It’s a long way inland these days, though there is still a large marina there, making the best of the tidal flow. I have to say that being in this part of the world is as good as being abroad – I have no idea how to pronounce most of the ancient place names and the locals keep correcting me 🙂

So it’s Wis-beech not Wis-beck…….

As we drove towards Wisbech the fens suddenly became apparent – the land suddenly flattens out as if someone’s been at it with a celestial smoothing iron. The Nene changes it’s character drastically here – it becomes a drain – dead straight with high banks and, as it was low tide, a strip of muddy water at the bottom. It must be quite a sight at high tide – it looks as if the river comes up a long way in its narrow channel.

The road itself has the feel of a out-of-season seaside resort, with a series of slightly tacky sheds and chalets housing a range of businesses from roadside cafes to a large ‘adult’ store just after a sign advertising a bird auction. We were taken with one cafe which displayed a large sign “don’t look back in hunger” just after their entrance – they’re working hard to keep their business open – good for them!

Wisbech itself is not a marvel for visitors but it does have a quiet interest. Once again, the layers of history have settled on the town like the silt in the estuary. But as silt bring wealth it can also bring stagnation. My overall thought here was that you can clearly see where Wisbech has come from but it’s hard to see where it’s going…..

The church in Wisbech is ancient and an unusual construction - the air inside is coold and dry, as if no-one has breathed much in there for 100 years.....

Still, if you get out here, there’s an excellent Tourist Information Centre and an especially informative leaflet featuring a walking tour of the town which takes you around the most historical buildings. There’s been a settlement here for centuries – the church is particularly interesting as part of its boundary is the ancient sea wall. It’s surrounded by a sea of roads now and it’s hard to imagine that waves once lapped what is now a pavement kerb.

We enjoyed our walking tour, and lunch in the dog-friendly cafe ‘Etcetera’. Today’s greyhound story is that of a young woman who crossed the road to talk to Blue and Lou. She’s a greyhound fan and although her circumstances don’t allow her to have one of her own, her friend owns two retired racers. The lady we spoke to has a proprietorial pride in her friend’s hounds – she went to the Great Greyhound Gathering and proudly told us that one of the dogs had won the ‘best bitch’ class in 2009. Blue and Lou enjoyed an expert fussing – they are very good when take them around towns and are very tolerant of people who approach them.

After the walking tour we had a little drive down to the port area to see what’s left. Although the current river wall must be a good 20 feet high, there are extensive flood defence works going on here – interesting, particularly when you look at the Environment Agency’s flood maps here. Because of this a few riverside roads are closed – this complicated our exploration but we did get to see a few living industries – mainly timber but also a huge ‘British Sugar’ building (and possibly factory). We couldn’t work out whether cargoes were still being carried by river to these waterside industries – there were a few mobile cranes around. A big chunk of land has been earmarked for mainly residential development down in the port area – the hoardings feature old photographs of the port in action – we really enjoyed looking at these in passing.

There is a big Premier Foods building here – they own the Hovis factory at Greenford – more on that when we get back there in June! Premier Foods has a cute ‘mnemonic’ for their Wisbech operation…








Sweet! Though they do have at least one rogue – tonight’s news had an article about five arson attacks that have occurred in the town in the last four weeks – the one has effectively closed the Brink – a historic road flanking the river.

The United Kingdom coat of arms in the church at Wisbech; the monarch's motto translates to "God and my right"; the other motto belongs to order of the garter and translates to "Spurned be the one who evil thinks"

We headed back to Peterborough to pick Richard’s bike up from the very nice people in Bristows – they’d managed to fit in Richard’s bike, done a lot of work on it to include a new pedal, new crank, new bottom bracket and a new wheel which mounted up to a rather large (but not unreasonable) bill but still cheaper than buying a whole new bike. If you need a cycle shop round Peterborough then Richard is happy to recommend Bristows. We didn’t feel up to exploring Peterborough so we had a drive around Ashton and Oundle instead. Both are charming but Oundle, being the larger settlement, was fascinating. It’s a beautiful town with soft yellow limestone buildings – it reminded me of the Wiltshire market towns on the Kennet and Avon, Marlborough in particular.

We got back to the boat around 6pm – we’d had a good day. We though of eating at the Chequered Skipper but it was dark and deserted at 5.45pm – a look at their website confirmed that they don’t open until 6pm. By that time we were back at the boat and I couldn’t be bothered to go out again. We ate on board and had yet another early night – we may not reach Cambridge on this holiday but we will surely have caught up on our sleep and that’s no bad thing……

Today’s Trivia

Today’s trivia is very trivial because I chose to look into the British Sugar plant in Wisbech. On our trips along the Thames and Severn estuaries, we’ve seen that sugar is imported on large ships from cane growers in the tropics. But that won’t be the case here – British Sugar specialises in beet sugar which is grown locally. They claim that their beet travels an average of 28 miles from farm to processing plant. The Wissington plant is outside King’s Lynn but I can’t find any reference to British Sugar in Wisbech, though the building is huge and unmissable. British Sugar have also diversified into bioethanols and various other products. Articles in the Farmer’s Guardian suggest that relations between the giant British Sugar Group and local farmers aren’t always easy; sadly I think that’s an eternal struggle – like the tide and the shore….

I’m interested in sugar because our home garden produces abundant crops of fruit, especially plums, and I make LOTS of jam every year. According to the oracle (i.e. my mum) beet sugar doesn’t give as good a set as cane sugar – I’ve got no scientific proof for this but I never risk it as getting my jam to set is an arcane rite at the best of times! However I did find this article which suggests that there is a difference – interesting!

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The Odyssey 2010: Day 13

Posted by indigodream on 13 May, 2010

Tuesday 11th May

Thrapston/Islip to Ashton

Pulling out of the Thrapston moorings - uh, I'll leave you to it then Richard, it is the extreme right hand arch that you need!

We had a great night on the Thrapston moorings – we started the morning by filling up with water, just because we could!

Now, I’d reversed us into the moorings yesterday which meant that the boat was very well placed for coming out and going upstream. Sadly we were going downstream which meant a tricky turn before tackling the narrow bridge arch. Having looked out of the window and seen the conundrum, I deftly delegated the task to Richard while I pottered around inside!

We were away by mid-morning and soon reached the charming tableau of old (presumably mill) buildings by Islip Lock. Today’s stretch of river was particularly scenic and the dog rummaging continued to be top notch!

As we moved downstream there were increasing numbers of ‘low headroom’ signs – both under the guillotine gates and some of the footbridges. Around here, when they say low they mean low – Richard had to duck several times! I don’t think that the river’s particularly high at the moment – it must be quite a challenge when it is. There are depth/height markers along the locks – well worth checking and well worth knowing how much clearance you need. We estimate that Indigo Dream conservatively needs 2.1 metres to the top of our tv aerial. If you have a chimney then you could have a problem …

We had the river to ourselves and cruised in isolation for most of the day. There is a very beautiful lake just above Titchmarsh lock – it’s part of a 200-acre nature reserve. There’s a large hide for bird watchers, but there weren’t any birds or watchers there today. There were signs of life at Titchmarsh Lock, where there is a substantial marina. A local boater came for a chat, asking about river conditions upstream. We thought they were fine, but as this is our first trip it was difficult to judge. There is a deceptive flow in the river – when we slowed down to tickover past moored boats, Indigo Dream continued to move at quite a pace. The local boater recommended the Kings Head pub at Wadenhoe; the cab driver last night had said the same so it must be worth a visit.

The approach to Islip Lock....

The stretch from Titchmarsh Lock onwards becomes increasingly beautiful. I can’t put my finger on the difference between a beauty that’s becomes monotonous (yesterday) and the beauty that makes you sit up and take notice (today). Maybe its the variety in the landscape – there are more trees here, more hills and, arguably, more glimpses of civilisation. Maybe it’s the different textures – the dry straw of last year’s sedges and the succulence of the emerging shoots; the freshness of spring leaves on the trees, still wearing various verdant hues that will, by late summer, have been baked to a uniform dark green; the flash of fire from a red kite’s wings slanting in the sunshine. Maybe it’s just the mood of the beholder! Whatever the reason, today’s landscape, silent and unsullied, inspires quiet introspection and so we cruised on quietly…….

On the river Nene, nature has achieved what artist  M C Escher took a lifetime to find – mind-bending meanderings which totally shift your perspective at every turn. I was commenting that there were lots of church spires in the area when I suddenly realised that there was only one, seen from every conceivable angle and distance! Some villages usefully alternate between church towers and spires – at least we could distinguish between them!

Nonetheless, there are a lot of churches here – according to the tourist information and cathedral guide at Peterborough Cathedral, the churches were a sign of great wealth and local villages would vie with each other for the most ostentatious display.

Lovely view across the Titchmarsh nature reserve...

When we got to Wadenhoe, Richard pulled the boat over onto the pub moorings (on the left above and opposite the lock) – I was amazed, I thought we’d broken down! But no, having had so many recommendations for the King’s Head he’d decided it would be positively rude not to stop there for lunch! I’m so glad that we did – the pub is in a charming building and one of the bars is dog-friendly. I thought about Greygal – her dogs like the warmth and our table was in an alcove with a wood burning stove. It wasn’t lit today, but in the winter there’s be a nice greyhound shaped space next to the stove – perfect! We met four people in the pub garden – the ladies had a nosey around the boat – they’re experienced hirers and made all the right noises about how beautiful Indigo Dream is, despite the fact that she’s looking a bit lived in at the moment!

In the pub itself, a lady on the table next to us actually owns her own rescue greyhound – she didn’t have her dog with her (too nervous for this public a place) but she showed us a photo. We thought her beautiful blue girl (Pip) might be related to Blue but they’re from different bloodlines, though both are Irish dogs. We chatted greyhounds for some time, much to the irritation of her friends, who were over from Australia and had expected a bit more attention! She was unabashed – greyhounds are important 🙂 We had a good lunch here and the staff were both friendly and efficient. I could have spent the afternoon and the evening here – we can therefore add our recommendation to that of the locals we met yesterday……

Below Lifford Lock.....

But we had to move on. You need not worry about whether the mooring’s secure – we had to hammer our pins OUT of the ground!

As chance would have it, a narrowboat was approaching the downstream gates as we swung into the moorings – hurrah, we’d get a lock set out way. This was the first boat that we’d seen on the move for over 18 hours – funnily enough it was nb Elusive!

It’s been said that Lifford Lock (Lifford on the lock sign, Lilford in the guide book) is the most attractive spot on the Nene. Well, can’t argue with that, though we still have the downstream stretch to explore. It is a lovely spot, gently wooded with a charming stone house over looking the weir stream. A graceful stone bridge below the lock completes the picture. A little further downstream there’s the fine edifice of Lilford Hall. I could just imagine living there……

Actually, there are quite a few places that I wouldn’t mind calling home around here (subject to a flood risk assessment of course) 🙂

We passed nb Ursa Minor coming upstream – that’s two boats in one day – that’s what they call congestion around here. Amazingly, in a river of meanders, we passed her in a straight, wide stretch – how often does that happen?!

Upper Barnwell Lock - that mill on the left is a restaurant - not sure about mooring there - they give a phone number for enquiries - 01832 272621

Barnwell Mill is another pretty spot with its imposing mill building tempered by the soft wheat-gold of its stone walls. It’s now a restaurant – approaching from upstream, the pub garden is on the left above the lock – there’s a little sign on the water’s edge saying “mooring available ring Oundle Mill 0n 01832 272621”. We didn’t try the number but I do hope that this means that the restaurant is trying to court a few boaters. And so they should, no-one drinks like a boater who’s had his/her appetite whetted by a good day’s cruising in the fresh air 🙂

Note: Upper Barnwell Lock is NOT good for dog-rummaging – the road runs right next to it and is not fenced.

There’s an ugly road bridge below Upper Barnwell Lock – it  has very low headroom indeed; but while you’re ducking down look out for its hidden treasure – the many little cups of swallow’s nests – magic……

Having stopped for lunch (unheard of) it was now late afternoon and we began musing on moorings. This is essential on the Nene – there is plenty of room to moor but the mooring spots are relatively few and far between. So if you miss one it might be an hour or more before you find the next. This was our dilemma this evening – stop early-ish at Ashton or push through another couple of hours to Fotheringay.

When we saw the Ashton moorings our decision was made – they are beautiful. Looking downstream, there’s a stream branching off to the right above the lock and there is a long length of moorings right down the bank – probably enough for at least 10 narrowboats. It’s down on the book as ‘unofficial’ moorings so there aren’t any pontoons or mooring rings; but the bank is fairly even and a a good height for a narrowboat; the ground is firm enough for the pins and the view over the fields is lovely. The road is an easy 10 minutes walk away and there is good dog-walking all around as the path joins to the Nene Way. The tiny hamlet of Ashton is around 15 minutes walk – it has a few houses, a rather nice looking italian restaurant pub (the Checkered Skipper) and at least two irridescent male peacocks strutting around (Blue and Lou safely confined!). Though if they had happened to catch a mouthful of tail feathers I’d have had to throw them away – my granny said that having peacock feathers indoors was terrible bad luck…..

Having checked for cats on the adjacent boats, we let Blue and Lou out for a rummage on the moorings – we needn’t have bothered. After a cursory look around they both ran back to their beds, though not before getting a big fuss from the crew of nb Pendlewych, who proved to be charming neighbours.

Provided you have the necessary victuals on board, we can thoroughly recommend these moorings – they’re so restful. Richard decided to leave the car where it was until the morning so we had a peaceful evening on board and an early night – bliss……


Well tended grounds near Islip Lock - it's all very neat here....

Sue of nb No Problem mentions these fine moorings with a caveat that the yacht ropes make an annoying noise when blown against the masts. We agree - you could hear the racket above the noise of our diesel engine!

River view - we think that the white posts are fishing pitches but the river's closed season at the moment...

It's very off putting to see the water levels a good 6 - 8 inches above the level of the top gate! It does create a bit of turbulence but if you stay forward of the yellow zone then you'll be fine.....

The church of St Michael and All Angels in Wadenhoe - it's is visible for what seems like miles and is apparently well worth a visit.

Looking back towards Upper Barnwell Lock....

What a pose....

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